The 2020 college football season is going to be far from normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In early July, the Big Ten announced the decision to go with a conference-only schedule and quickly other Power 5 conferences followed. And although the Big Ten is yet to announce what its schedule will look like this fall, it is certain that it won’t be what fans expected for 2020.
One major difference that could happen this year is the rearranging of the schedule. Some in the media have suggested the Big Ten could place divisional matchups first in order to ensure those games get played. That way, at the very least, there would be a divisional winner and potential Big Ten Championship Game representatives.
This could result in the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry game, which has been played on the final Saturday of the regular season since 1942, being played earlier in the season, perhaps even the opening weekend of the season.
Many around Buckeye Nation have voiced their displeasure of this idea, preferring the tradition of The Game. Ohio State players had mixed reactions when asked about the possibility of the contest being moved on Tuesday.
“That’s a tough question,” redshirt junior center Josh Myers said on a teleconference. “With the uncertainty of the season, right now I’m more concerned about playing them at all in general. I don’t know if that necessarily came out right because I think we will play them regardless of where they are on the schedule. But I’m less concerned with it now given the circumstances. Of course, with the tradition of The Game, I would love for it to be the last game of the season.”
Myers is from Miamisburg, Ohio and grew up watching the Ohio State-Michigan game. He understands the tradition of the rivalry but also knows this is an odd year where tradition may have to be sacrificed in order to make a season happen.
Fifth-year senior Jonathon Cooper also grew up in Ohio, in the Columbus suburb of Gahanna in the shadow of Ohio Stadium. Cooper made sure he was available for the final game of an injury-plagued season last year, suiting up for the last time against the Wolverines before redshirting. It was clear at the time how much this rivalry matters to him.
However, Cooper was quicker than Myers to come to a definitive answer with his thoughts on moving The Game.
“No. No. No. No. Not at all,” Cooper said when asked if he cared about a change in schedule. “That date does not matter. It’s just The Team Up North, as long as we get to play them.”
Not all of the Buckeyes’ players are from Ohio and grew up watching the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. While those out-of-state players have been educated on the importance of The Game and its history since joining the Scarlet and Gray, they still have a different perspective.
Quarterback Justin Fields, who is from Georgia and returned from a knee injury to propel Ohio State to a 56-27 win against the rivals, just wants to lead his team to a ninth straight triumph against the Wolverines.
“To be honest, I don’t really care when we play The Team Up North,” Fields said. “I just want to play them and my answer is simple and really just beat the brakes off of them, for real.”
Added California native Wyatt Davis, who saw his first real action against Michigan in 2018 after Demetrius Knox got hurt: “I’m right there with Justin. It really doesn’t matter to me when we play them. Obviously like Josh was saying, the tradition of that game is very important to us but it doesn’t matter. If it’s the first game on the schedule, so be it. We’re going to beat the brakes off of them.”
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If Ohio State and Michigan moves to earlier in the season, it won’t be the only traditional rivalry to do so. USC-UCLA, which is also usually played at the end of the season, will now be played on Sept. 26, Week 1 for both teams. Other teams could do the same.
Regardless of what happens with Ohio State-Michigan, the Big Ten schedule is already going to reflect this unique year. But if a college football season happens amid the COVID-19 pandemic and The Game can be played, players will be happy.
“I’d also love to have a normal college football schedule; I’d love to play at Oregon,’ Myers said. “So there are a lot of things that are different about this year and I just think letting that go for now and accepting the situation as it is and just being ready to play any day.”